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February 10, 2012


Biology students at the University of Maine at Fort Kent have added their research on soil viruses (phages) to a national DNA databank, capping a fall semester during which first-year students were engaged in a national research program.

The University of Pittsburgh recently completed the sequencing of the full genome from a mycobacteriophage (virus) which general biology students at UMFK isolated from local soil last fall.

In all, UMFK students isolated nine phages that infect a soil-dwelling bacterium from soils in Fort Kent and New Brunswick. Samples of those phages are now archived at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia, and at the University of Pittsburgh's Bacteriophage Institute.

Students purified DNA from several phages, and the class members selected one (named "Dumbo" by the students) to send for DNA sequencing. Fortunately, the DNA selected was of sufficient quality, and the sequencing was a success.

The students also authored database entries for the phages, including photos, for an on-line database called phagesdb.

A major, and daunting, task for this semester's students enrolled in Genomics Research will be to locate and identify the more than 100 genes within the 75,000 DNA bases of raw sequence file that was received from the University of Pittsburgh.

Last year, UMFK was selected as a member of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Science Education Alliance (HHMI SEA), an honor which has allowed two of its biology faculty, Drs. Kim Borges and Steve Selva, to attend National Genomics Research Initiative (NGRI) training sessions. Drs. Borges and Selva developed the course curriculum for implementation, last fall.

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